South Sudan became an independent country in July 2011. From the start, ethnic friction has threatened the fragile nation. By December 2013, fighting erupted in Juba, the capital and largest city, and quickly spread to other parts of the country.

While Juba has calmed a bit in the past few weeks, the situation is still tense. The city’s only true medical clinic closed amid the fighting and has yet to return to country.  Armed soldiers are frequently seen in restaurant and hotels, financially motivated crime is on the rise, and the powder keg that emanates from the IDP camps on the UN compounds continues to grow.

In the past, NGOs  have operated in South Sudan without armed escorts and safe houses and loosely followed curfews.  All of that has since changed. They need to adapt. In fact, a poll conducted during a recent webinar on the changing situation in South Sudan, 40-percent of the NGO’s that responded said that they have temporarily  cut back work in the country because of the violence. A full 26-percent said they have suspended operations and 23-percent said they continue to work but with increased security protocols and resources.

The situation dictates that NGOs need to take great precautions when operating in South Sudan and maintain a raised security posture. They now need independent medical care (like a paramedic who can stabilize a patient before he or she is evacuated), CPR and first aid training, security escorts, satellite phones for communication and cold hard cash to buy goods and services.Most importantly, NGOs need solid planning, including good intelligence to combat rumors that often run rampant in times of crisis. They need security managers who can coordinate evacuations, safe houses for storage of supplies and a way to communicate with the home office when cell phones, Internet and other primary forms of communications fail.

There are some basic fundamentals that must be practiced when it comes to crisis management and evacuation planning, including:

  • Pulling together key stakeholders;
  • Detail organization along with roles and responsibilities;
  • Delegate financial authority;
  • Maintain the plans, including up-to-date checklists and contacts;
  • Inventory evacuation equipment;
  • Prepare evacuation briefings.
  • Staff training in each aspect of security plans to avoid complacency

And for those operating in remote sites, organizations need detailed identification and maps of Evacuee Assembly Areas, Various Points of Departure; evacuation routes and International Safe Havens. If movement is not possible, detailed assessments and descriptions of stand fast options must be available. In the end, it’s all about preparation.

We don’t know what the future holds for South Sudan. But at least for the moment, this is the new normal.

For more on South Sudan, check out last week’s webinar that also featured speakers from International SOS, Control Risks and Inside NGO.